Cinemalphabet: O is for Outbreak (1995)
Normally, when a film stuffed with this many agents of gravitas and littered with so many Oscar winners and noms arrives on the scene it’s a sure sign it should be avoided at all costs! (I see you, Paradise Road) However, Outbreak turns out to be a perfectly satisfying, but by no means complex – action film. Yes, you heard me, Coltrane, this is Dustin Hoffman as action hero! If you need to deep clean your house, sort through important business papers, waste away a perfectly good Sunday afternoon or acquire cocktail party level knowledge of the CDC or viral epidemics, then boy do I have a film for you.
There is some exposition in Africa – to underscore lapses in judgement in virus containment protocol – then we’re introduced to a nightmarish looking McDreamy attempting to capture and sell a monkey who rewards him by scratching and infecting him. I love that monkey so much! So far the monkey is head and shoulder above everyone else in terms of acting.
Just as the mysterious illness begins to infect folks Outbreak abruptly becomes Kramer Vs. Kramer! Hoffman’s character and La Russo fight over who’s going to take custody of a box of picture frames and two adorable dogs. Get it, because they’re both hard working, determined professionals (him a “Light” Col and her a newly minted mucky at the CDC). Much discussion of logistics, Atlanta and some obligatory relationship processing.
Soon we’re introduced to a Spacey with baffling blond hair in a role that usually reserved for the Kevin Pollacks of the world! Followed by a plucky Major played by Cuba Gooding Jr. who is actually quite good. Rounding out the cast – in some kind of gravitas and powerful voice cagefight – I present: Mr. Morgan Freeman and Mr. Donald Sutherland! There are two things I remember about their interchangeable roles (ha. I’m not the only person who finds them delightfully interchangeable as actors) is Morgan Freeman’s character is saddled with the name Billy! In what universe is a 6’3 70 year old black dude ever called Billy? And to keep things nice and simple, the writer has thoughtfully decided to let Sutherland keep his own first name. And boy, as Maj. General Donald McClintock, Sutherland is at his bastardy best. If you only watch this movie for one reason, watch it to see (and hear) Morgan and Donald voice battle over CB radios. It’s like listening to a mashup of every car and credit card commercial ever made.
The action is satisfying, the story ludicrous and climax obligatory. Wolfgang Peterson is adept at helming big budget action foolishness so at least the direction is skillful. Still, it’s another one of those movies where you have to assume the only reason everyone signed on is because of everyone else involved in the project. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go to work everyday with Hoffman and the crew? I know I would I don’t care what the script involved.
Honestly, the only thing missing from this film besides a decent script, non cheesy dialog and a plausible premise is Gene Hackman!
Outbreak is available on Netflix Streaming! You know your tub could use a good scrubbing.